The mountains keep calling
John Muir is one of my favorite authors to read. I appreciate his body of work because so much of it is based on his experiences in the outdoors. He eloquently captured those moments when the peacefulness of nature allows the mountains to speak to us. They whisper that we’re all part of the circle of life, and our short existence in this universe is just a small blip on a bigger radar.
Contemplating life’s purpose through nature is why Muir speaks to me. I admittedly didn’t even know about him until I moved to Colorado. I spent most of my childhood reading Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley, a regional Midwestern favorite, who also had his share of appreciation for nature. My Aunt Patty taught me to recite lines from his 1885 “Little Orphant Annie” by the time I was 4. And his poem “The Ripest Peach” is one I love to read when I need a smile. It reminds me of my Glenwood artist friend Renick Stevenson, who once painted the prose on paper as a gift when I left for Flagstaff to live. I always remember Riley’s poignant words, “The ripest peach is highest on the tree.”
That can be said for many things in life, especially love.
As a naturalist as well as a writer, Muir specifically spoke of his love for the mountains. His quote “The mountains are calling and I must go …” is one of the more famous, and one many outdoor lovers wildly appreciate. It originates from one of many letters written to his sister, Sarah Muir Galloway, about his North American travels. The full quote is: “The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.”
Muir was constantly learning about the environment and discovering areas of the west that had rarely been shared with the others lacking the drive or opportunity to explore as Muir did. I often think of his bravery and determination to follow a passion that obviously burned deep inside his soul. It was one that led him to climb mountains, raft rivers, and fend for his own food before many of the national park trails had even been blazed. I love to think about how still and quiet the areas sat, even as Muir made his human presence. Luckily we still have such serene wilderness spots to offer solitude, especially here in the Roaring Fork and Aspen valleys.
Like Muir and other preservationists, I would love to see that remain.
Now that I’ve lived in the Rockies, which will always be home to me, “The mountains are calling and I must go” is a message I keep in the back of mind whenever life seems too hectic or impossible to navigate. The quote would surely make a great tattoo, or maybe on one of those wooden signs people craft at wine-and-paint parties and hang in their bathrooms.
I can relate to that fire inside Muir that attracted him to the mountains like a twirling, barefoot dancer to Mountain Fair. Being back in the mountains this week reminds me of that pull so magnetic it can make a heart ache when away and feel full as it ever could get when near. Mount Sopris has that impact on me, and as I sit and stare at her — there are many of us who believe she has strong female qualities — I can’t imagine a world outside of Colorado.
Being from Indiana and living in Colorado meant I made yearly, and sometimes more, treks back to my birthplace to see family and friends. When I traveled between my two homes, I realized living in the mountains felt as if I were protected by a bubble. Not in terms of hardships — I often felt the tightening of a mountain lifestyle budget and a fear that comes with not being able to support oneself. There were also times I felt alone, especially when I suffered those infamous mountain dating woes.
So much so I wanted to be out of the protective bubble.
That’s where I am today. Returning to a world in which I pleasantly existed has shown me that although I followed a care-free lifestyle with few responsibilities, I was likely missing out on life experiences the mountains couldn’t provide. The calling to be a mother, and to be closer geographically to my own, caused a different kind of tug at my heart than Mount Sopris could ever have. Moving back home, especially as my family experienced the loss of my grandparents, was a life calling I now know was destined. But I do know the mountains will always be calling. And I will always figure out a time to go.
April E. Clark wishes she could try women’s wood splitting at Mountain Fair. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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